How to Upcycle a Bookcase into a Kitchen Island


Upcycling old furniture into new, functional pieces is a great way to give new life to something you already own. Turning a bookcase into an island for your kitchen is a particularly useful and creative upcycle project. A kitchen island can provide much-needed extra counter space, storage, and seating to make your kitchen more functional and inviting.

Converting a basic bookcase into an island requires some simple modifications like removing shelves and adding a countertop. With a little bit of DIY skills, the right tools, and some decorative touches, you can create a customized kitchen island on a budget. This upcycling project is beginner-friendly as long as you have access to basic woodworking tools.

This article will provide a step-by-step guide to How to Upcycle a Bookcase into a Kitchen Island. Follow along to learn how to assess if a bookcase can be converted, what tools and materials are needed, how to modify the structure, add functional elements like seating and storage, and finish it off with counter tops and decorative accents. With these tips, you’ll be able to turn a forgotten bookcase into a stunning centerpiece for your kitchen.

Assess Your Bookcase for Upcycling

Before beginning your upcycling project, you need to make sure that the bookcase you are using is a good candidate for converting into an island. Ideal bookcases to transform are sturdy but basic models made from wood or particle board. when assessing a bookcase, look for the following qualities:


  • The bookcase should have dimensions between 3 to 4 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep. This allows enough surface area for functional use as an island but still fits in most kitchens.
  • Standard kitchen islands are 36 to 42 inches tall. Make sure your bookcase is around this height or can be adjusted to this height range.


  • Look for a bookcase made out of sturdy wood, MDF, or particle board. Avoid bookcases with thin backs or sides as they won’t provide enough support once the shelves are removed.
  • Metal bookcases on wheels are not suitable for converting into islands. Opt for stationary bookcases with sides fixed to the back.
  • Examine the joints and hardware. High quality joining like dowels or screws are needed to hold the bookcase-turned-island together.


  • Remove any shelves which are thin, sagging, or otherwise weak. The island should only have thick, sturdy shelves or no shelves at all.
  • Shelves built into the sides are fine to keep. Focus on removing central shelves which don’t provide structural support.

Size and Placement

  • Measure the space in your kitchen to ensure there’s enough room for the bookcase island to fit. Islands need at least 36 inches of clearance on all sides.
  • Plan for the placement of chairs, stools or standers around the island so there’s enough room to comfortably sit and eat.

How to Upcycle a Bookcase into a Kitchen Island

Once you have identified a solid bookcase, it’s time to dive into the upcycling process. Follow these steps to successfully convert a basic bookcase into a customized kitchen island:

Tools and Materials Needed

Gather the following supplies before starting:

  • Power drill and drill bits
  • Wood glue
  • Wood filler
  • Sandpaper (80 and 120 grit)
  • Paint/stain and supplies for finishing
  • Paintbrush and paint tray or rags
  • Countertop (wood, laminate, butcher block)
  • Brackets and screws for attaching counter
  • Cabinet hardware like handles or knobs
  • Island legs or wheels (if raising height)

Optional: circular saw, saw horses, miter or table saw for cutting counter tops

Step 1: Remove Shelves and Modify Frame

The first step is to empty the bookcase and take out all removable shelves and supports from the center. Keep any solid shelves attached to the sides for extra stability.

Use a power drill to remove any remaining pins, nails, or screws from the sides to fully remove shelving. Fill existing holes with wood filler and let dry completely. Sand until smooth.

Cut away any back panel covering the frame using a circular saw. This allows access all the way through the bookcase for adding counter tops.

TIP: Use saw horses to support the bookcase on its back while removing shelves and cutting away the back panel.

Step 2: Add Support Triangles

Once shelves are removed, the open box shape will need additional reinforcement. Cut and attach wood support triangles made from 2x4s or similar lumber.

Attach a triangle structure to the interior top and bottom corners of the side and back panels using wood glue and screws. Let dry completely before moving on.

Step 3: Prep and Paint Bookcase

Now that the main bookcase frame is ready, prep it for painting or staining. Fill any imperfections with wood filler and sand again until smooth to the touch.

Vacuum the entire piece to remove dust and debris before finishing. Apply your chosen paint or stain color using a brush or lint-free cloth. Allow to dry fully before reassembly.

TIP: Opt for a light or bright paint color if placing the island in a small kitchen to keep the space looking open and airy.

Step 4: Add Decorative Accents

Once the newly transformed bookcase frame is fully dry, you can add decorative details. Some fun ways to spruce it up include:

  • Attaching trim pieces along the bottom or top edges
  • Painting/staining the sides and back a different color than the main box
  • Adding distressed details like rub-through effects
  • Stenciling or painting patterns onto the sides and/or back panel
  • Wallpapering the back panel with an eye-catching print

Get creative with accents that reflect your personal style!

Step 5: Install Countertop

It’s now time for the fun part – installing your countertop! Popular options like laminate, butcher block, or stone can be cut to size and secured on top of your upcycled bookcase.

Make sure your countertop is 1-2 inches smaller than the top opening of the bookcase on all sides. This will leave room to secure with brackets. Use a circular saw, jigsaw or table saw to cut your counter top material to the proper dimensions.

Attach the countertop using L-brackets and screws drilled into the sides and back frame of the bookcase. Predrill counter holes to prevent cracks. The brackets provide strong support for the counter.

Apply adhesive like liquid nails between the counter and bookcase for extra stability. Clamp the countertop in place until the adhesive dries.

Step 6: Add Functional Elements

To make your upcycled island as functional as possible for your kitchen, consider adding:


  • Attaching a overhang countertop on one side will allow space to add bar stools or chairs. Make sure the overhang is at least 12 inches.
  • For more casual seating, attach a built-in bench along one side. Use 2x4s for the legs and plywood for the bench top.


  • Get clever with extra storage by adding pull-out vertical drawers within the open frame of the island box. Great for utensil storage!
  • Repurpose open side shelves into spice racks, knife blocks, or mini pot racks.
  • Attach a hanging pan/pot rack from the ceiling above the island for easy access to cooking essentials.

Other Elements

  • Wine glass racks and towel rails along the sides add handy functionality.
  • A bottom shelf can provide closed storage or an open space for baskets.
  • Add locking casters to the base of the island for it to easily double as a serving cart.

Step 7: Finish with Details

To complete your DIY kitchen island transformation, add final touches like:

  • Cabinet hardware like knobs or handles
  • Pendant lights or sconces above the counter for task lighting
  • A chalkboard panel for writing grocery lists or menu planning
  • Barstool cushions for added comfort
  • A runner rug underneath to define the island space

With your amazing upcycled island in place, you’re sure to have the heart of your kitchen! Don’t be afraid to add your own flair and enjoy this functional piece you created.

FAQs About Upcycling a Bookcase into a Kitchen Island

Some common questions about taking on this upcycling project include:

What type of bookcase is best to transform into an island?

Opt for a wooden or laminate bookcase at least 36 inches high and wide, with sides and a back panel fixed in place for stability once shelves are removed. Avoid metal cases on wheels or super thin backs.

How difficult is this DIY project?

This is generally great for beginner to intermediate DIYers, as it requires basic skills like drilling, sawing, sanding and attaching counter tops with brackets. More advanced woodworking is not necessary.

What size countertop should I buy?

Choose a countertop 1-2 inches smaller than your bookcase on all sides to leave room for attaching the brackets underneath on the frame. Overhang space can be added if desired for seating.

How much seating room do I need to allow for stools or chairs?

Standard kitchen islands need about 36 inches clearance on any side where seating will be placed. Make sure your kitchen has enough space before getting started. An overhang can help maximize seating room.

Can I change the height or add wheels?

Yes! You can add locking casters to make a rolling island, or attach thicker legs to raise it higher for bar seating. Standard kitchen island height is 36-42 inches.

What are some good options for countertops?

Butcher block, laminate, and wood tops are budget-friendly choices. Marble, quartz, or granite can also be used for a high-end look. Choose whichever fits your functional needs, style and budget best!


Upcycling a bookcase into a kitchen island is a rewarding weekend project that can completely transform an outdated or boring kitchen. With a few simple modifications to remove shelves, add structural supports, attach a countertop, and include functional details like seating and storage, you can create a customized island on a budget. Not only is this project beginner-friendly for DIYers, but you also get to give new life to a piece of furniture you already own instead of purchasing something new. This project guide has all the information you need to successfully tackle converting a basic bookcase into a stunning kitchen island. Just follow the steps, get creative with accents that match your style, and soon you’ll have the perfect handy island for cooking, prepping, eating and entertaining!